Virtual Reality and Immersion

What prompted me to make a post like this? I saw a comment on a Youtube video about a person in a horror game who was using an Oculus Rift as well as an omni-directional treadmill for movement. I’m going to paraphrase the comment, but they essentially thought the concept of yelping, screaming, and being actually afraid to move forward in a game as something that would only happen to those uninitiated to the world of gaming.

I don’t know if they meant to imply it, but what I interpreted them saying is that the concept of immersion is really only temporary or only has an effect on people that aren’t hardcore gamers. They also continued to imply that it took a certain gullibility in order to allow yourself to be immersed and actually frightened by a horror “game.” This was followed by another comment that they quickly realize they’re dreaming and that although they have not yet tried the Oculus Rift, they assume that it would be a similar effect.

Now, I’m not here to try and dispute whether someone would actually get scared or not from an Oculus horror game, but to delve deeper into the real meaning of immersion and how it happens. In terms of the Oculus Rift, many people describe “presence” as a term related to immersion in which it’s the ability for a virtual reality experience to attempt to make you feel like you’re part of the game, not just from the environment, but from your own body and movements. In that case, it requires much more additional hardware on top of the VR headset, including a way to interpret body movements as well as allow you to walk (or run) in place. A lot of buzz is going around the VR community with that word, which is definitely warranted, but not exactly what I was thinking. It’s for that reason is why I’ll stick to the more general term “immersion”, because before you can even get to presence, the experience must have good immersion.

But, disregarding the countless discussions of what makes or breaks immersion, there is an important detail that I see left out quite often: immersion and presence aren’t thrust upon you, forcing you to accept that this is some new reality that you’ve gotten yourself into to. A certain suspension of disbelief is required before immersion can take place. I think that in every case of someone that doesn’t believe anything could immerse them, they also are ones to point out every flaw and hole in a movie. Which, don’t get me wrong, that is also completely justified in many cases.

But, I think that mindset is what holds them back from enjoying a VR experience fully as well as any form of media that requires a certain acceptance of your environment. It’s not a matter of gullibility because any sane person will know that they are using a virtual reality headset and that if they take it off, they’ll be right back to where they were before they put it on. The factor, the difference between someone who can experience immersion fully and those that can’t is acceptance, a certain suspension of disbelief that combines all of the conditions that happen subconsciously along with all of the elements of the VR experience.

To clarify, I am not trying to insult anyone who has trouble with being immersed in a video game or any other form of media. But, the comment I mentioned at the beginning of this post really sparked a flurry of thoughts that I wanted to share.


Daemon ad Idem: Concept Art

Hey, I thought I’d do an update with a drawing I’ve been working on. I won’t reveal any details about it, you’ll just have to see once I finish the game!

I am in no way a great artist. In fact, this is the first actual drawing I’ve done since I was in Middle School, with the exception of very rough doodles on the side of my notes. I recently purchased a graphics tablet because I could not even attempt to draw anything with my mouse. It never felt comfortable.

As it stands, with this I mainly focused on the shape of the body, the colors, and any additional significant details that would help guide me when I made a model. I didn’t bother with shading, textures, or any small grooves.

Hope you enjoy!


Moving Forward

I’ve been wanting to make a post on here, but I usually want to make sure that it’s something significant, either because I’m really getting into the grit of game development or when I’m very excited about the pace at which things are moving forward.

In the case of this post, I’m excited that on the hardware side of things, I’m getting there! I’ve been replacing any equipment that was borrowed with my own purchased items. So now I have my own microphone and midi interface in order to make sure that I’m putting voices into the game that I can be proud of. Next step is to make myself a small recording booth that can be taken apart and portable enough to fit into my car for moving. Thankfully I have a few friends that can help with designing and putting it together.

Also, as some people know, I did get my hands on the first development kit for the Oculus Rift over the holidays. I just couldn’t wait until they had come out with the second version, Crystal Cove, although I can’t wait to see the improvements that version brings in person. I’ve already gotten into it with Half-Life 2, which is an incredible experience to say the least. Once I start working more in Unity, I’ll be using the Oculus Rift alongside development to make sure that both people on monitors and people that will be getting into the VR scene shortly will be satisfied.

The good news is that the story is really coming together for Daemon ad Idem, which will be my very highly story-driven game. I’ve made sure to put in a bunch of back story that I can expand or keep as short and sweet as it is right now. That’s always good if the story is well received and I wanted to expand on it. ūüėČ

What I will be starting on shortly will be an experimental dreamscape-exploring game: Incubi. I want to start with it because although it will have a story, it will be more of an exploration game centered around gameplay elements I want to play around with. It will be the kind of project that I go back to and update as I find the need to find unique ways to interact with the virtual world. In that way, I focus more on each element (or, as it will be in the game, separated rooms) rather than getting into the gritty details of the textures and models. Essentially, I can provide an interesting experience to myself and hopefully other people while helping my skills in Unity advance.

If you read this, thanks for stopping by and reading my posts. Whether you’re blood-related or not, you’re all family to me! Let’s continue to make sure that gamers are a tight, but welcoming community, now and forever.


The Internet is in Jeopardy

It seems like recently this has been popping up more often, but it doesn’t make it any less true:

The simple truth is that we are heading towards an Internet that is either going to be greatly divided by geographical regions, heavily censored and controlled for only “appropriate” (government-approved) conversation, truncated and mutilated to artificially increase the profits to appease shareholders of Internet service providers, abuse of controversial, hot button topics in order to pass legislation to allow for higher levels of domestic spying, or, what’s the most likely, all of the above.

The disgusting truth is that while you read the above paragraph, you might realize that a few of these things are already on their way. Some are close to completion and feel like they’re just around the corner. In any case, it’s dire news for everyone that holds that the Internet is this generation’s bastion of truth, even with its imperfections. What is probably one of the most important inventions of the past 20 years is getting the political treatment. We have already seen the power of the Internet in the hands of capable individuals in order to make a difference, whether it’s for better or for worse, in the lives of themselves and those around them.

So, just as the Internet triumphed when Internet switches were turned off in order to shut off communication between protesting civilians in countries all around the world, the Internet will live on regardless of what happens in the near future. I don’t speak of the Internet as the current colossal network of computers connected all around the world, but the concept of this community of people that seek to spread truth, denounce lies, and to help our fellow man or woman. That Internet will find a way and that community will not give up on its goal.

Because in a world that seeks to put down humanity in any way it can, community and harmony are the most powerful tools that you can have in your arsenal.

Thoughts on the “Metaverse”

The Metaverse, as is described by the Wikipedia for Snow Crash (the cyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson), is:

“…coined by Stephenson as a successor to the¬†Internet, constitutes Stephenson’s vision of how a¬†virtual reality-based Internet might evolve in the near future. Resembling an¬†MMO, the¬†Metaverse¬†is populated by user controlled¬†avatars¬†as well as system¬†daemons.”

If you’re a fan of Tron, whether it’s the 1982 or 2010 movie, think of the grid, minus the pseudo-religious tones and user-hating programs.

This whole idea of having an Internet that’s based around virtual reality has been around for quite a while in science fiction, usually in a dystopian future with corporations at the seat of power. The corporations were hubs for bustling activity because any business done over the Internet (which, in these dystopian societies as well as today, was a lot of it) required security, couriers for transmission, as well as a multitude of other employed people that have various tasks related to the products/services of a corporation. The most interesting part of these virtual worlds are the areas outside of corporations, where most people spend their time doing recreational activities, even to the point of having an effect similar to being drunk or various drugs.

But, even more than recreational activities, it was interesting that between all of these corporations, which were essentially the largest entities left when the governments of the world deteriorated, there was a society of anarchy. In these novels, by the point at which the story began, it wasn’t just the rich that had access to this technology, but many people. I would say that the Metaverse itself was a creation that was a result from the growing deterioration of the “real world.” So, most of the people that were part of this second world were mainly people that were employed by corporations that were hired for their skills in the virtual world as well as hobbyists. Which, with the deterioration of the outside world, it was likely that many people were hobbyists that learned from others how to set up the equipment in order to replace their reality with another.

This doesn’t even take into consideration that it was likely that most of the jobs were in the Metaverse, meaning that either people would risk physical health damage from working in the real world for 8 hours a day (or for whatever time they were traveling between their job and where they slept) or they could learn how to use terminals or their own devices in order to be part of this second society.

One of the significant points I can bring up about some of these stories is that they were all written before the Internet became popularly used by all people and even before they were truly understood. They were writing science fiction and were letting their imaginations take them to unknown territory, a frontier that hadn’t been tamed or explored yet. A place where it can be argued that anything is possible. Whether they believed that their fiction would become reality in the future can vary between the different authors that wrote about virtual reality, but the real question is: is a virtual “second world” possible?

I want to explore that question at least a bit in this post. The possibility of a second world depends on exactly how you interpret that question. Some people might mention that modern day MMOs already incorporate many of those concepts including a virtual world hosted by a corporation that’s inhabited by both humans and programmed creatures. The users are there for recreational purposes as well as socializing with other people.

And that’s a valid point. To a person that was born before the Internet was around, the concept of such a virtual world with many people playing on it at one time from all around the world sounds incredible to them. That people are meeting on these games and falling in love and, in some cases, getting married is ludicrous to them.

But to me, when I talk about a second, virtual world, it’s one that’s not limited to a single game or type of fantasy, it’s to the point where it would be on an entirely different level of the Internet, even possibly on a second Internet. It would require a separate protocol from what we use now. There wouldn’t be central servers, just nodes that link larger nodes together. The most intricate and detailed areas would be owned by either groups of people or businesses/corporations not necessarily because of their wealth, but because of the concentration of users. That would either mean that they are personally hosting their own server or that between all of the users, they have enough processing power to have a sizable piece of land.

Let me try to explain this way: today, when we think of the people that use the Internet, we’re usually using it either at our home, at work, or while we’re out. Each of these have a network, even if you’re not necessarily connected to other people. If we think about it, the concept of a network can be related to having a piece of land. You have your personal land, your home network, where your family and friends live/visit. Sometimes it’s secured, but it’s also fairly open to outsiders depending on what you’re using it for. You also have your workplace network, where you interact with your co-workers and transmit information regarding the business. This network is (hopefully) well secured in order to protect information about products or services you’re involved in, so it doesn’t allow any unauthorized users in. Websites you visit are usually under fairly strict rules as opposed to your ¬†own home network, but are a bit more flexible than your work network, at least in most cases. This would be like a restaurant or a bar where you can meet other people or go with friends to have fun.

The entire concept of a Metaverse/second world is based on an idea of a virtual world on the Internet that is open for you to do what you want as long as you know how to program/script/draw/”paint” what you want to create. The closest game that even comes to that concept is Second Life, a virtual world where you can get your own plot of land, go to a public plot or land, or maybe have access to a restricted plot of land. You can create whatever you want to as long as it doesn’t break any parts of the game and it isn’t on someone else’s plot of land. But, even with this game, it’s hosted by one company. You have to go to them in order to get a plot of land. You’re limited in what kind of scripting you can do to create objects.

There needs to be something else that allows anyone with the knowledge and skill to set it up, with a widespread programming language to create what you would like to create in your own world, but the ability to make it public and allow people to come onto your plot of land if you’d like them to. A true virtual world where the only limits are your imagination and what resources you have to use.

We’re already getting to a point where many analog formats are going digital, requiring more and more infrastructure for even a basic home network. In this sense, I think that it won’t be long until there will be a subset of society that has a personal server set up in even their own homes. The goal will be using a system that allows people to have their own plots of land based in their own network. They can only be local-based, but with that only people that were connected directly could access it. The other option is making a restricted network, where you need to be an authorized user to get access. This is for a secure home network or a business/corporation that needs to keep most people out. Then there are public networks, for people that provide services or recreational activities. There are still people that have control over their land, but they are open to anyone.

The concept behind this second world being that you need to travel a certain distance to get to some of these places, but it’s related to how far your connection has to travel to get to them rather than the geographical distance. In this sense, you will be able to visualize places you travel by on the way to your original location, seeing the different networks that are set up near the major nodes connecting these people together.

Before I write any more, I want to get some opinions on this and see what some other people think. With that, I can see if this concept of the Metaverse makes sense. I’d love to talk about it and discuss how certain problems, including having a bad connection, would translate to this Metaverse.